Friday, March 28, 2008

Gift Shop Books

One of the things I like about visiting historical places is looking at the books in the gift shops. I often find books that I would not have found elsewhere. The gift shop at The Hermitage had a pretty good collection for me to pursue. There were, of course, several books about Andrew Jackson and other presidents, as well as general histories of the office of the president and other such things. There was a large selection of books about the Civil War. Most of the books were focused on some aspect of American History but they also had a large selection of books about tea and tea parties etc. Huh? Not exactly the subject I would have expected to be so prominently displayed at a the home of a former president. They even had a book about Jane Austen! Maybe Andrew Jackson's wife or daughter-in-law read Jane Austen!

I did not have a lot of time but did grab a few books while I was there.

The First American Cookbook by Amelia Simmons is the first cookbook published in America by an American and the first to use American ingredients like corn meal. This is a great historical document. "It reveals the rich variety of food Colonial Americans enjoyed, their tastes, cooking and eating habits, even their colorful language."
Ever hear of the cooking terms wallop, frumenty, pannikin or emptins? Me neither. Luckily there is a glossary that describes what these old cooking terms mean.

Delicacies in Proportion: An Anecdotal History of White House Entertaining by Patricia B. Mitchell gives very brief overviews of entertaining and food, including recipes, in the White House between the years 1850 and 1901.

Before Freedom and We Lived in a Little Cabin in the Yard edited by Belinda Hurmence are taken from the Federal Writer's Project interviews from the 1930s. These interviews were a part of Roosevelt's New Deal. Ex-slaves were interviewed about their homes, chores, masters, families, and celebrations during slave times. I studied some of these in school and learned then that a lot of these interviews paint an almost nostalgic picture and rarely say anything negative. This is mostly because these people were pretty old when they were interviewed and because they were being interviewed by white people so they were afraid to say anything too negative. I thought it would be interesting to read more of these than I did when I was in college. There is a third volume but I did not get it. I kinda wish I had.

I had even less time to look at the gift shop at Belle Meade and did not buy anything while I was there. In the 30 seconds I had to look, I did see one book that caught my attention and I am going to try and track down a copy of it. It is called A Diary from Dixie and it is the diary of Mary Chestnut who was the wife of an aide to Jefferson Davis. It looked pretty interesting.


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